Newcastle jazz diva Su Cruickshank dies at age 63

FAREWELL: Su Cruickshank
FAREWELL: Su Cruickshank

THE larger-than-life Su Cruickshank, jazz singer, writer, comedian, actor and entertainer, has died aged 63.

Cruickshank was a well-known, much-loved Novocastrian and a staunch supporter of Hunter theatre and live music.

Known as the Diva on the Hill, Cruickshank's singing career was kicked off by accident at the Star Hotel in Newcastle where one of the musician's wives used to hear her singing along, and encouraged her to sing.

"I got up and sang Bill Bailey and that was it," she told The Herald in 2007.

Cruickshank was the eldest of four children who grew up in Adamstown, where there was a piano in the house, as well as a double-bass that belonged to her father.

Her sister, Jane Cruickshank, said she was very much influenced by her paternal grandmother, who had been a singer.

Cruickshank spent time in London where she sang in what she described as "sleazy jazz dives" before returning to Newcastle where she started singing at The Orient Hotel, and joined the Hunter Valley Theatre Company.

Since 1979 her performances were many and varied, spanning the gamut of the performing arts from variety shows, jazz concerts and comedy to film, theatre, radio and television.

One of her early successes and best-known film roles was as the mother of Yahoo Serious in Young Einstein.

She also starred on the ABC's drama GP, was a regular guest on The Bert Newton Show and Midday with Ray Martin, and hosted her own interview show in 1995 and 1996.

For many years she hosted the Midsummer Festival of Jazz at Sydney's Domain for the Festival of Sydney.

The complete list of her achievements covers several pages.

Cruickshank was a member of Merewether's South Leagues Club where she regularly played bridge and dined.

As well as being a mezzo-soprano with a four-octave range, she was fluent in Yugoslavian, and had an understanding of French, Russian and Italian.

Jane Cruickshank said yesterday her sister always had lots of friends, and would be sadly missed.

"She was fantastic with audiences, both as a singer and as a compere, and a promoter of jazz," she said.

"The thing with Su is she was incredibly generous. She did lots of freebies for charities and other musos. She was very generous with her time. Money and possessions were never important to her."'

Cruickshank was admitted to hospital in August, before going on dialysis, and died at 11pm on Tuesday.

Her family is planning a musical celebration of her life, likely to be held next week at a Hamilton hotel where she frequently performed.